The MSM Does Not Define “Moderate”

Occasionally I’ll write something like the last post, raging at the right-wing boilerplate that passes for “moderation” in Washington today, and wonder if I’m more or less credible for having been associated with a famously “moderate” political group, the Democratic Leadership Council, back in the day. And I’m sure Tim Noah of The New Republic, another iconic segment of the moderate wing of the center-left coalition, must pinch himself after writing stuff like this:

The predominant ideology in Washington isn’t liberalism or conservatism. It’s Chicken Little-ism.

The Washington Post daily hammers us with panic-stricken dispatches by Lori Montgomery, a wholly owned subsidiary of Erskine Bowles, warning that if America falls off the “fiscal cliff” our civilization will be reduced to rubble. Never mind that Montgomery was preaching the same nonsense one year ago when the congressional “supercommittee” failed to reach budgetary consensus. Miraculously, we’re all still here. (Post readers seeking coverage more reliable and less alarmist than Montgomery’s are advised to go online for Suzy Khimm’s excellent Wonkblog dispatches on the topic.)

Now Politico has its knickers in a similar twist about the terrifying prospect of filibuster reform (“GOP Warns Of Shutdown Over Filibuster”). Manu Raju’s story, illustrated with a photograph of the Capitol dome set against a sky black with storm clouds—I kid you not—says the Democrats’ proposed filibuster reforms “will surely prompt a furious GOP revolt that could make those rare moments of bipartisan consensus even harder to come by during the next Congress.”

More and more, when reading Politico, I feel as though each article should come with a Surgeon General-style warning that whatever you’re about to read is hype-distorted by a factor of at least 20 percent. I recommend discounting by at least 50 percent for this one.

I won’t try to speak for Tim, but my own ever-increasing exasperation with the political analysis of the MSM is most definitely exacerbated by its writers’ implicit and explicit claims that whatever stands half-way between the present posturing of Left and Right is what defines not only “moderation” but everything that is reasonable. That’s not my idea of “moderation;” it is very nearly its opposite in terms of brainless and gutless accommodation to whatever way the wind blows. You get the sense that if the political Right in this country ever went openly fascist, with its activists wearing uniforms with lighting bolt insignia on the arms and marching around singing songs about the physical elimination of their enemies–the MSM would find some Lindsay Graham figure who only wore his uniform part of the time and sought only to circumscribe the liberty, not the life, of his enemies. (Yes, yes, I could construct a parallel image of the Left going totalitarian, too, with similar results).

I understand this sort of “moderation” based on false equivalencies is the MSM’s coping mechanism for looking objective in a polarized political world without referees. But I don’t have to like it or even accept it, and it’s a grievance many “moderates” are beginning to hold in an immoderate way.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.